Every parent hopes to preserve their child’s innocence for as long as possible. One way they do that is to try to protect a child from frightening stories in their community or in the world.
But that becomes impossible as soon as a child begins to switch channels on a TV, surf the Internet or interact with classmates. Then terrorism, school shootings, missing children, war, hurricanes and all the rest can become topics of concern. But there are things you can do to make the best out of the situation.
Understand the benefits of talking to your child about scary topics. Once your child has heard about a school shooting, ignoring it won’t ease his mind. A parent who addresses these issues can correct misunderstandings that the child might have. The parent reinforces a sense that talking things out is helpful and that the parent is approachable. A good opening remark might be, “I noticed you saw the news report on the kidnapping. I wonder what you think about that?” If your child doesn’t say much, you might respond, “If I was your age, I would start to think…”
Search for hidden concerns. Kids will personalize events and wonder, “Can this happen to me?” So even a passing comment your child makes about a killer storm or a serious accident at an amusement park almost always reflects a deeper worry that such an event could hit home. Ask a few more questions even if you think the conversation is finished, such as: “What else is on your mind about this? Are there any worries you have that you haven’t mentioned? What are some of your friends worried about? What is your biggest worry now?”
Offer strong reassurances whenever possible. Children below the age of 10 or so need you to be convincing when you reassure them. Saying, “Your school is safe” is better than saying, “Your school is probably safe but no one can ever be completely certain.”
Older kids understand the concept of risk and percentages and need reassurance from you that they are as safe as possible. Consider saying something like, “As you know, danger can’t be completely eliminated, but I wouldn’t let you go out if I believed you’d be harmed.” Tell a child that his creative imagination—which is wonderful when it comes to making up stories or drawing pictures—can also make him unnecessarily afraid.
Involve your child in normal, routine activities. When their daily activities are predictable and safe, a child feels more secure. Playing catch, watching a DVD, cleaning up a room, visiting Grandma, having friends over and so on are powerful reminders to a child that life is normal.
Remind them of the essentials. Let your child know that her feelings make sense. It’s normal to be a bit scared or sad or angry over certain news events. Remind her that the grown-ups are doing all that is possible to fix the situation. Remind her of your love with words and affection.
Be willing to have more talks later on. There will always be another news story that grabs the headlines and scares people, especially kids. Be willing to raise the topic again. A long discussion may not be necessary. Look for clues that your child is more upset than usual or preoccupied and be willing to find out why that might be. The remedy for fear is trust. A child learns that the world is not always a safe place, but can be convinced that his parents are approachable and reassuring.